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Klobuchar, Franken back controversial nominee blocked by Senate

The nominee was the first to fail since the Senate changed its rules on judicial nominations last fall.

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken voted to advance a controversial Justice Department nominee on Wednesday, but Democrats couldn’t find the votes to approve his nomination.

Seven Democrats joined every Republican in opposing Debo Adegbile’s nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He’s the first Obama nominee to fail on the Senate floor since lawmakers changed the rules to make presidential nominees easier to approve.

Adegbile led the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund when it represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, as he appealed his death sentence. A federal judge overturned the sentence.

Republicans and national law enforcement groups were deeply opposed to the nomination even though Democrats said Adegbile was well-qualified to lead the Civil Rights division, rolling out endorsements from across the political spectrum and arguing his role in Abu-Jamal’s defense was minimal.

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Klobuchar and Franken both voted for Adegbile when he was before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, but in the end, seven Democrats opposed his nomination on the floor: Bob Casey (Pa.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Chris Coons (Del.), John Walsh (Mont.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.).

Casey represents Pennsylvania and came out against Adegbile last week; Pryor, Coons and Walsh are on the ballot this November.

Devin Henry can be reached at